Friday, September 9, 2011
Arizona State is back in black
By Ted Miller
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State fans have been encouraged to wear all-black tonight, just like their team will, as the Sun Devils hope to show off fancy new uniforms against No. 21 Missouri.
The question is will it end up feeling like a funeral?
Many believe not, that this will be a "hello world" moment for a program that is looking for its first win over a ranked foe since 2007, Dennis Erickson's first season, which also happens to be the Sun Devils' last winning season. Arizona State started the week as a 6.5-point favorite and is now favored by 10 points.
Well, for one, Missouri might be even more banged up than the Sun Devils. The Tigers won't have seven projected starters available. The Sun Devils' count on that is six.
But mostly it's the belief that Arizona State was a talented team in 2010 that was competitive against some of the nation's best teams, but just didn't know how to finish. With lots of those players back, the expectation is the tough lessons of last fall will pay off in 2011.
The first key for the Sun Devils is an old bugaboo: Mistakes, as in turnovers and penalties. Arizona State in recent years has had some good players, but it's also more often than not found ways to lose, not win. It gave the ball away, often a critical times. It committed boneheaded penalties, often at critical times.
The first measure tonight: Can the Sun Devils play a more disciplined game than Missouri?
Then there's quarterback Brock Osweiler. While he was solid finishing up the 2010 season, this is a far bigger stage than he's seen. Recall that his lone 2010 start at Arizona, included a horrible first half in which he was lucky to not get intercepted several times. Yes, "several" is more accurate than "a couple."
Osweiler's life will be much easier, by the way, if his veteran offensive line creates just enough space for running back Cameron Marshall to keep a tough Missouri defense honest.
On the other side of the ball, linebacker Vontaze Burfict has an opportunity to make a big impression in front of an ESPN audience, many of whom will be tuning in -- and staying up late on the East Coast -- just to see him. He can set a physical tone against an Tigers offense that figures to be run-first. He also needs to avoid stupid personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, which he often hasn't in the past.
Word is this is going to be a sellout. Sun Devils fans, who had turned away over the past couple of years, appear to be reinvesting in the program.
After years in the red of losing, they're hoping for their team to be back in the black.